Guest post by Andrea Dennis
Do you often feel that the bulk of your day is spent as judge, jury, and executioner? Do you recall those roles being outlined in your job description? Administrators are regarded as the chief disciplinarians within schools. When classroom instructors routinely defer to administration on myriad minor student transgressions, assistant principals drown under the tidal wave of referrals and fail to evolve into the transformative instructional leaders needed for schools to thrive. Modifying policies with innovation and cooperative methodology, however, can make redirecting student behavior a shared task and curtail office referrals schoolwide.
After 18 years of working in a high school, I dismissed my trepidation and accepted an opportunity to move to the middle level. Are middle and high schools basically the same? The short answer is definitely not. Trend data revealed that my middle school faculty encountered a mountain of minor (though not inconsequential) behaviors that often resulted in suspensions, forfeited learning experiences, and failing grades. We had to cultivate a proactive discipline policy that halted misbehaviors before they progressed to “willful disobedience” or evolved into actions that led to suspensions.
My school of nearly 600 students has two core content teams per grade level. Schedules are designed for these teams to collaboratively plan. Our first step was delineating minor and major infractions. My eighth grade teams then developed a discipline blueprint that uses a QR code system and Google Docs to quickly address and record minor offenses. Teachers track student misbehavior and identify patterns that negatively impact the learning environment. These teachers then submit a request to their grade-level administrator to schedule a meeting that includes the team, the student, parents, and the assistant principal. The documentation is stored in Google Docs and comprehensive progress and attendance reports are prepared for the meeting.
Witness for the Defense
All meetings begin with stakeholders agreeing that this is a collaborative effort to redirect student behavior. Team members advocate for the student and share positive attributes before broaching the topic of his/her conduct. Although Michael has amazing debate skills, classroom sessions are hampered when he questions every decision of the teacher. While Destiny is brilliant at solving math problems quickly, she tends to distract classmates that need more time. Reach deep if necessary and find the compliment to start the meeting.
The stakeholders work in partnership to identify triggers that lead to student misbehavior and develop an action plan/behavior contract to move forward. Some of the ground rules include:
- The student has a voice and should be prompted to discuss and take ownership of his/her actions.
- This is not an attack; this is an intervention strategy.
- All data presented should focus on the student’s needs and student success.
- The school’s progressive discipline policy is examined to show the consequences of failing to adhere to the final agreement.
This approach has significantly decreased the number of discipline incidents for eighth-graders at our school. Students are supported through comprehensive monitoring. Parents are better informed and actively work with the school to manage student behavior. Teachers lose less instructional time. And administrators no longer feel like lone rangers when it comes to addressing discipline.
Items to consider:
- What level offenses would this strategy most effectively address?
- At what point in the school year would these meetings need to take place?
- Should case managers be included for students with IEPs? Counselors for students with extreme behaviors?
- What steps can be taken to ensure parents and students don’t adopt an “us against them” outlook?
- How can technology assist in communicating with parents and early intervention?
Are minor discipline infractions hindering the educational process at your school? If so, how can this team intervention model thwart misbehavior?
Andrea Dennis is a first-year principal at Scarborough Model Middle School in Mobile, AL, which serves 584 students in grades 6–8. She is the 2015 Alabama Assistant Principal of the Year and AASSP District 1 vice president. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaLDennis.